July 15

An update on my semester in screenwriting

When I signed up for a semester in screenwriting, I knew I was opening myself to new experiences, new lessons and new writing techniques.  I’d heard of the benefits of at least trying your hand at screenwriting, and this would be my chance at trying it with someone to guide me through my attempt.

I am currently working on packet two. Five are due by the end of the semester and I’ve come to a conclusion: Screenwriting is an experience every writer should try.

The formatting of the story isn’t the only thing different about screenplays.  Screenplays tend to encompass very lean, very fast-paced, very to-the-point scenes. I thought I was doing well in writing those kind of scenes in my novel, but the more I play around with the screenplays the more I question my skills in those areas. Because I keep finding changes I need or should make for the screenplay because it isn’t straight-forward, fast enough, or relevant enough to be in the movie. When I encounter these incidents, I wonder if I should make those changes a part of my novel.  Doing so would tighten my novel. But in some areas I’m not sure if the material I’d lose would be worth the tightening, characterization vs pacing kind of thing. However, I know in other areas tightening the scene would be the better move.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed these options if I weren’t turning it into a screenplay.

With the changes I’m playing around with I’ll lose a lot of words and I imagine I’ll gain ideas as I get further along in the story.  On the flip side of the token, I’m also getting ideas on how to continue the story so that this and the sequel become one work, one book. I’d need the smaller word count to add in the sequel. But since I haven’t really written anything for the sequel yet, I’m not even sure how the sequel will work out yet. But I’m more than willing to find out.

June 1

New Semester, New Reading Material

A new semester has started at Casa Connelly, which means I have a long list of new material to work through. This semester my focus is on Screenplays, which means I’ll be reading a lot of screenplays, watching a lot of movies and reading a lot of books. My mentor for this semester is David-Matthew Barnes.  My list of reading material may change but at the moment this is what I’m looking at consuming:

Let The Right One In.  
Stardust
Princess Bride
Your Cut to: is showing
Young Adult
Garden State
Perks of Being a Wallflower
Chinatown
Thelma and Louise
Jane Eyre
Northanger Abbey
Jane Emily by Patricia Clapp  
A book by Lois Duncan

Any suggestions on which Lois Duncan book I should read? I’ve never read that author before.  Like last semester, I’d like to post reviews, both critical and regular book reviews on each of these.  So do you have a preference as to when I’ll read them?  They’ll be consumed between now and October. We’ll see what I can actually find, screenplay-wise as well.

May 9

Critical Review: Lives Start from scratch in Made from Scratch

Note: I’m not currently sure this one will have a regular review available as I’m not familiar enough with screenplays to really have an opinion. I was barely able to write this.

David Matthew Barnes used a tamale as a metaphor for the characters and their development in his screenplay Made From Scratch. The reference to tamales is also seen in the screenplays title: Made from Scratch, which is the same phrase that’s used in reference to the tamales.  The title is apt, especially when one looks at the various plot lines in the story.

Tameka, a 25-year-old mother with a nine-year-old son first appears in the screenplay as a poor single-parent barely making enough money to survive. She works two jobs and doesn’t have time to date Clyde.  By the end of the screenplay she has one higher-paying job, more confidence in herself and is seen on a date with Clyde.  Other plot lines are followed through the play of women finding their happiness, often by starting their lives over…from scratch.

In the screen play, the main character is Victoria, a successful business woman, struggling with her sexuality. She returns home for her step-father’s funeral. While at home she talks to her seventeen-year-old half-brother Martin:

VICTORIA. I’m sorry I didn’t call you at Christmas.
MARTIN. You missed Tamales. Made from Scratch.
VICTORIA.You made Tamales? With Mom?
MARTIN. No. She hates ‘em.  Me and Paulette made ‘em together on Christmas eve.
VICTORIA. How were they?
MARTIN. They could’ve been better, I guess. (32-3)

This conversation lets readers know Victoria and Martin like tamales, despite their mother’s dislike of the food. But it also shows that although Martin spent a lot of time making them, he was not entirely happy with the results.  This can be seen in his own life as well. Their mother, Constance, sees Martin as lazy and was more concerned of what the neighbors think than the fact her son downed a bottle of her tranquilizers on the same night the tamales were made. Paulette, Victoria’s life-long best friend, drove him to the hospital instead.

Like her brother, Victoria is also in the ‘it could have been better’ description provided about the tamales. Victoria is unhappy.  Some of this is because her mother made her miserable as a child, blaming her for the unhappy marriage and for anything that goes “wrong” in the family, like Martin being gay.  Victoria is also attracted to a co-worker, Danielle, but won’t admit her attraction to her.

Later after hearing of Martin’s suicide attempt she stands up to her mother, and her issues. She then takes Martin and Paulette, who is unhappy with her life and marriage, home with her. The next day Victoria initiates a romantic relationship with When Victoria gets home she finds Danielle, Paulette, and Martin in her kitchen, the atmosphere blissful. She asks Danielle a question:

VICTORIA. What are you guys doing?
DANIELLE. They’re teaching me how to make tamales.
VICTORIA. From scratch?
MARTIN. Is there any other way?
VICTORIA. No.  There really isn’t.
DANIELLE. How do you know when the dough is ready?
PAULETTE. Vickie calls it the water test.
VICTORIA. The secret is in the masa. When you think the dough is ready, drop it in a glass of cold water.
DANIELLE. Sink or Swim?
PAULETTE. If it floats to the top, it’s ready to be made into something incredible. (105-6)

In this conversation the tamale is mentioned again. This time it’s to show what viewers/readers have already witnessed: When the tamale (person) is ready, it is made into something incredible.  Once Victoria faces her issues, she was ready, and she is working on making her life and the lives of other people incredible. She’s giving her brother a chance to thrive, her best friend a chance to experience freedom and giving herself a chance at happiness with Danielle.  She’s ready to take on the world.

The title, Made From Scratch, is a reference to an all-encompassing metaphor in David Mathew Barnes’ screenplay.  The metaphor uses a tamale to show the characters and their various development through various plots. A good metaphor can sometimes be what pulls multiple plot points of a story together and add a little more punch. David-Matthew Barnes is skilled at writing metaphors.

Barnes, David Matthew. Made from Scratch.  N.d. Screenplay.

April 4

Writing Screenplays: Initial Challenges

The semester hasn’t even officially started yet and I’m challenged.  Before school starts, Spalding has their MFA students send in samples of their work.  The samples are put into similar categories: screenplays with screenplays, Children’s books with Children’s books, Memoirs with Memoirs, etc.  The categories are divided into groups of students.  I think Fiction has the majority of the students so they need multiple groups, where as Children’s and Young Adult writing had so few in that category that everyone was put in the same group.   Everyone then receives a  copy of the samples the students in their group sent in.  Once they receive it, they read and critique the pieces.  The more notes you have on the individual piece the better off you’ll be when it comes to giving the face-to-face critique during residency.

So, what have I been doing?  Preparing my sample for residency.

I could have chosen to try Fiction this semester instead of screenwriting. Fiction is closer to the YA genre I write and I read a ton of it.  Their’d be some changes, some differences, but nothing compared to what I’m enduring trying to get this screenwriting script worked out.  I knew Screenwriting would be a challenge because it is so different from what I’m use to writing, and I wanted to challenge myself, not have an easy semester.  I’ve proven what I’ve always suspected: Screenwriting and Novels are very different animals.

Not only is the formatting different but so is the way you think of how you write. Screenwriting, so far, seems to allow for far more telling.  I’m not needing to describe the emotions of the characters, add thoughts or numerous other things. I tell a lot instead of show. For example, in my screenplay, I have:

Regan: (Incredulous)  You’re husband?

In a novel, I’d write it a different way.  Adding more details so you saw and heard Regan’s emotions instead of being told them.  In that way, screenwriting is easier for me.  Because the emotional aspect of the story has always been a tad harder for me to write than other things. However, I feel like the story is naked without some of the more common elements I have in even my most basic drafts.  It’s unsettling and goes against several instincts.

I think I did okay with my scripts. But I’ll find out for certain how I did when I get on campus and receive my critiques from my peers and mentors.  No matter how I actually did on the screenplays, I know this will be a learning experience that will hopefully help me with my novels.

September 23

End of Semester is Coming

So some of you may already be aware that I am working on my last packet for this semester.  I won’t be able to attend school for the fall semester, which starts in November.  However, I plan to attend the next spring semester–late May.  By all appearances, second semester students are strongly encouraged to try a different focus for a full semester.  So, instead of taking in YA next semester, try memoir, poetry, screenplay, playwright, adult….  I’m leaning toward Screenplay.  I’ve just heard a lot of great things about that program and it would be different from what I currently write.  I think Adult writing would be too much like YA for it to show me a different way of writing in a significant way.  So I thought I’d ask readers to recommend books or screenplays to me.  Partially so I can keep posting reviews on this blog.

Any genre will do, though I would prefer YA novels for books.  And I have no idea what I’d want Screenplay-wise so I leave that to readers to suggest.

Also, I know, I owe a book review on City of Bones still and two more critical reviews.  Those will be coming shortly!